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My Three Gifts of Christmas
Every Friday my syndicated column is printed in a bunch of papers! This one is a special one to me. For the last few years I've mentioned our method of gift giving, and inevitably people come up to me on the street, months later, telling me how much they appreciated it. So I thought I'd better mention it again, albeit in a slightly different way (it's hard to keep coming up with new Christmas columns after 8 years!). Here goes:

Apparently I buy really lousy Christmas presents. I had always mildly suspected my shortcomings, but recently economist Joel Waldfogel confirmed them. In his book Scroogenomics, he showed rather indisputably that if you ask Christmas gift recipients to assign a value to the gifts they receive, they inevitably quote a number less than the actual cost, leading to a waste of $963 million a year in Canada. And the gifts that are valued the least? Those from aunts, uncles, and grandparents, who apparently only get 75 cents of perceived value for every dollar spent.

I do have trouble buying for the nieces and nephews and various other younger people in my life. I don’t always share the same interests, and being the incorrigible aunt that I am, I refuse to pander to hobbies that don’t suit me. Instead, like many millions of aunts and grandparents and in-laws all over this nation, I buy something lousy instead. My preference is always books. Unfortunately, most younger Canadians don’t share my passion, and thus they consider these types of gifts with about the same amount of affection that I consider most X-box games. And thus we reach the gift-giving impasse.

One of my nephews announced rather brazenly that this year he’d rather just have cash. Doling out money, though, seems so crass. If gift giving is going to degenerate into passing along cash and gift cards, then Christmas becomes a season of greed, rather than a time to express our love.

Nevertheless, Waldfogel’s news isn’t all bad. We actually do quite well on certain gifts. The closer we are to people, the better the gift giving becomes. Siblings value gifts at about 99% of their value, and spouses do even better, at about $1.02. I’m pretty sure my children tend to like their gifts from me, as well.

Even if I buy my girls good gifts, though, is that really the point of the season? According to most of the seasonal flyers that pass through our mail slots it certainly is. Shoppers’ Drug Mart, for instance, in their 36 page “Gifts Made Easy” flyer managed to talk about the “Top 10 Gifts They’ll Love” (though I’m sure my nieces and nephews wouldn’t like those either), and lots of things to “Rock your Holiday”, or go “Twinkle Twinkle”, while only mentioning the Christmas word three times.

If Christmas is only about gifts, then we are in trouble. It has become a big waste, whether we’re successful gift givers or not, because all we’re doing is breeding greed. I know it’s difficult when children are young and they desperately want the latest toy, but parenting is about identifying teaching opportunities, and I think this is one of them. Life is not about accumulating stuff with as little work as possible; life needs to be about giving, about making a difference, about family, and values, and faith, and love, or life becomes very empty indeed.

That’s why several years ago we started a new gift giving tradition with my
children. We call it the “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh” ritual, where they each get three gifts, and nothing more. The gold gift is something they want. The frankincense gift is something they need, like socks. And the myrrh gift is something to nurture their souls. It could be a journal, or a book, or a CD, or a movie. It’s something that reminds them of their purpose here on earth, or encourages them to think, to write, and to pray about what’s important. It’s always the biggest challenge to find such a thing, but it’s a challenge I’m up for, since it reminds us of the reason for the season. And I’m pretty sure, despite what the flyers might say, that reason should not be greed. Pass it on.

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At 7:35 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I love the idea of your 3 gifts. How meaningful and not overdone. I'll be talking to my husband about this. Thanks! Tiffany in the Balkans


At 10:37 AM , Blogger Shaun and Holly said…

What a great idea. I need to consider this and talk to my family about it. Thanks for sharing...



At 12:14 PM , Blogger Kimberly said…

We also try not to go over the top, at Christmas, and i love the 3 gift idea,but on my little ones, i have already exceeded the limit...i have been shopping yard sales and the Salvation Army for months looking for special items..

This year it has become a necessity with the economic downturn, and trying to put money away in our "obama fund"...We do set a monetary limit, that we don't exceed...

We don't buy gifts for lots of extra people, we give cookies, hot cocoa mix,homemade candies...our family, plus my mom and Granny =15 old babysitters' little girls also receive gifts, but that is it...

We have 3 birthdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so the party here never stops, and my mother who complains about sending the gifts + all the holiday birthdays says every year, Kimberly what were you thinking, and i often reply mother, thinking had nothing to do with it...


At 2:33 PM , Blogger Mommy Bee said…

Wonderful post--I hope you don't mind if I link you. I had already written a post (scheduled to post on monday) about how we've changed our gift-giving this year, and your post is in precisely the same spirit. We came up with a different answer (although I like the 3 gifts idea too) but in both cases it brings the focus away from the greedy 'getting' side of things, and that's a good thing. :)


At 1:37 AM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

I haven't limited it specifically to three, though I love your idea and the 'theme' of the three.

I try to give my boys one thing they really, really want (still a toy, at this point), something educational AND fun, and then something for all of them - usually a game we can play as a family.

We do stockings, too, but that's just "trinkets".


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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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